Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nikonos V

I received an email from my dad last night, and found out he is having a secret love affair:

"Felix: I just rinsed my good old Nikonos cameras - do you know what I felt? I felt that I actually love them.

These awkward looking olive-green instruments have really served me well, and I would never trade them for a digital camera.

When I compare myself to the digital photographers, I now realize that when I take a picture, I am in full control: I look through the view-finder, I set the focus, I compose, and, most importantly, I do not shoot wildly. I normally take one roll of film (36 images) on a dive, and have, thus, to be careful not to waste precious film material whereas "they", my digital colleagues, have no such worries and can happily squeeze the shutter 200-300 times during the same time.

Of course, there are exceptions, Roger Horrocks, Thomas Peschak, Sijmon de Waal, for instance, and certainly many other pros who, as excellent photographers such as David Doubilet, Doug Perrine, or Amos Nachoum have the images in their heads before "exposing" the chip (or whatever a digital camera does...). To be sure, I have seen absolutely stunning digital photographs, images that can hardly be surpassed with a Nikonos or another traditional underwater camera.

When I take a picture, I do it very consciously - digital photography generally tempts the photographers to shoot indiscriminately; as I said, they can afford doing that. I have seen many holding their cameras away from them, so as to move the lens, not themselves, closer to their subjects, and then all they do is just firing - to get as many frames per second as possible. These photographers and their digital cameras are not a unity anymore.

I have also seen guys attaching their digital cameras to a pole and lowering them into the water to be able to photograph sharks from a distance of a few inches. Admittedly, that way you could, with some luck, get spectacular close-ups - but, sorry, that kind of photography does not have any appeal to me whatsoever. The disciples of the new technology would tell me in answer: "At the end of the day it is the quality of the pic that counts, not how you made it". Yes, and yet....

To sum it up, despite all the limitations of the traditional photography, there is still much soul and that indescribable old mystique in it which the digital technology has taken away from the joy of photography - well, that is how I feel about it.

I will, therefore, stick to my Nikonos as long as I will be able to dive, and as long as there will still be 35mm film around - and, of course, folks to develop them.

Ah, there is something else: the digital photographers have the dubious pleasure of instant gratification - they can see right away whether or not the pics they took came out well whereas I have to wait days, if not weeks, with much suspense before I can appreciate the results of my photography. But that's just it - can you imagine the immense kick I get going through my freshly developed negatives and being able to intensely relive my diving adventures long after the vacation has ended?...."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crystal Water Revival

What we oceanic dreamers, Felix and I, expected in Crystal River was this: crystal clear water, and many manatees. We saw manatees, yes, only two, a mom and her calf, unfortunately in muddy waters, but at the spring of the river we were able to dive in water so clear we actually had the sensation of flowing weightlessly in liquid space...

There, where Crystal River wells up from under the ground, we found no manatees but an underwater scenery of a strangely surreal beauty only a poet could perhaps adequately describe. I am not a poet; I am a photographer, and all I could do was trying to frame what I saw applying the basic rules of a well composed image.

Swimming with manatees is an experience ocean divers will never forget: 'sea cows' have got to be the most gentle aquatic creatures. Operators urge visitors not to touch the sluggish animals - and while Felix and I just could not hold back stroking their backs once, we thought it was right to leave the manatees alone and just watch them.

The fun did not last long, however, as some 15 other snorkelers arrived on the spot only to do what we did: trying to get to the animals as close as possible which was just too much for the manatee mom and her kid - they left the scene and quickly vanished into the impenetrable mist of the greenish waters.

Tibu was with us and could only watch us snorkeling this time; we had to promise him to come back once he feels grown-up enough to face the ultimate challenge for a land-lubber Weimaraner: dive into the wet unknown...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tiburon in Bonita Springs

Yesterday a grey reef shark was cruising the beaches of Bonita Springs...actually it was a tiburon, actually, it was really Tibu (the Leander dog). My mom was in town visiting and we decided to take a trip to Bonita Springs, about two hours Northwest from Miami. The reason for the long drive - one of the only beaches in Florida that allows to have your dog off the leash.

On the way there, I was confident that my 1/4 tank would last, so confident that I kept on driving even when my "low gas" light came on. I told my mom: "Oh, that means I have about another 100 miles" - More like 1...all of a sudden the engine started to sputter until it turned off.

My mom and Tibu both gave me a look...the only thing I could think of: "People that run out of gas on a highway are so stupid." And there I was...thank god for technology - mobile and GPS. We had help there within 45mins.

Anyway - turned out to be a beautiful day - see photos and video...

Mom - I really enjoyed the trip and having you here!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Testimony to Human Brutality at the best Shark Dive Spot in the World: Tiger Beach in the Bahamas

Look at the photographs, look closely. See the deformed jaws? The lower jaws of these two tiger sharks are broken; the smaller shark has its lower jaw actually hanging out of the mouth – a horrible damage beyond eventual healing.

The sharks were lucky to survive the ordeal of being hooked - were they caught and released by some “sport” angler? Or were they able to just get away breaking their jaws in the process of being hauled in?

The suffering of these two tiger sharks at the hands of some senseless fishermen represent to me the innate wickedness of man vis a vis the other, be they fellow humans or “only” animals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back Home...

Yes, when I am at Tiger Beach I feel like being back home. Being surrounded by sharks, Lemons and Tigers - BIG Tigers - is all an old Sea Wolf can ask for to be serene and happy. This time I joined Eli Martinez of the Sharkdiver Magazine who organized the trip.

The sharkdivers on board the Dolphin Dream II, owned and operated by the legendary Captain Scottie Smith, were all very cool people:

- Eli Martinez, appropriately knighted by our not-so-red baron, Jupp Kerckerinck zur Borg, as "Lord of Tiger Beach";

- Sharkdiver staff photographer Paul Spielvogel, smart and unassuming as myself (true heavy-weights are always unassuming - LOL!!!) and also a real shark nut. Paul has got to learn how to freedive and photograph at the same time, though - I will teach him the freediving part, he does not need to be taught photography: Paul has taken some master shots, soon to be displayed in this blogspot;

- two new friends, Germans, elegant Jupp, already mentioned above, and down-to-earth Folkart Schweizer, both around my age which made us some sort of slightly mature three musketeers among all those youngsters;

- Mark Carlson and Traci Kalar - our token love birds, always holding hands, topside and down below;

- bubbly Marina Scuseria, originally from Buenos Aires, now bored to death in boring Basle;

- quiet, almost enigmatic Robert Terpstra whose hand was brushed, and hurt, by an agitated lemon shark and could, thus, not dive right away;

- Brian Cleveland, who, as I later found out, is a successful monster movie producer (is that why he wanted to dive with, and film, tiger sharks?? :-);

- and, last certainly not least, Grant Nathan with his distinctive London accent (instead of 'stairs' he would say: 'apples and pears').

Have I forgotten someone? I hope not....

Unfortunately, the days went by very quickly, and although the tiger action was rather disappointing during the first four days, we had a fantastic last day wid dem big, big tiga babes!! Sharky as hell, and not to be forgotten soon, certainly not by Folkart - our novice shark diver.... :-)

Also, we had 'Julia' around us during the entire stay at Tiger Beach. And that was a real treat. Julia is a teenage great hammerhead shark, some 8 - 8 1/2 ft long, and she almost turned Tiger Beach into Hammer Beach with her continuous presence. It is rare to see great hammerheads at Tiger Beach, and if you are lucky enough to see one, it would be a short encounter.

Julia was rather shy in the beginning but when she realized that all those funny and dark looking creatures are shark fanatics, not out to harm her, she became very friendly and performed all kinds of aquabatics in front of us to show off her incredible grace...

I was the only freediver and the only one who still clings to his antique photographic equipment: an old Nikonos V with two lenses (28 and 20mm), no flash. Somebody tactfully reminded me that we are in the 21st century....

Wanna have a look at my retro-looking pics? I have selected 61 - you don't have to view them all; but they are there. Just click this link:

I will be back next year - for sure!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tiger Beach Revisited

I just could not stop myself from posting this picture of a great hammerhead...sorry dad!

The Wolf recently went back to Tiger Beach (Nov) and just started to send me some of the photos. He is still sorting and deciding which will make the cut to be posted on Flickr. He also promised that he would write a few posts on his most recent adventure. In the meantime, read what Eli from Sharkdiver Magazine had to say about the trip.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Mother and calf

The day started out overcast and foggy, not very conducive to getting into the cold water. We spent the first half of the morning diving around a freshwater spring. The visibility was absolutely stunning, almost impossible to tell a difference between above or under the water. However, there were no manatees in sight. Moving to a second recommended spot, the visibility went to about 3 ft, still no manatees , they may have been there, but impossible to see.

Right before coming home for lunch, we came across a enormous mother manatee and her calf. The interaction was great - she let me scratch he "fin pit" and I think there are some decent video shots (will post soon). The Wolf says that he may have captured one or two photos - curious to see how they come out.

Tibu had his first boat experience, he seemed more like a spooked lizard - see photo above. Tomorrow we are off to Ft. Myers with a stop in St. Petersburg to meet up with Kris and possibly Tampa before heading back home.

Has been a great, relaxing, short, vacation.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Crystal River and sea cows

The Wolf, Tibu, and I just made it to Crystal River, FL to get up close and personal with a "really dangerous" mammal - the Manatee (I am kidding about the dangerous, they are really loving). Tomorrow will be our first day out, Wolf brought his cameras, as he just returned from Tiger Beach (photos to come soon), and I will be filming. Wonder how Tibu will like the boat and water.

I'll upload some photos tomorrow...